Monday, August 22

Back from Europe

We've been on a 12 day Mediterranean Cruise.  It's the cruise I paid $125/person for, but it ended up costing much more than that.  I decided we should make the most of the opportunity, since I don't know when I'll ever go back.  We purchased several excursions through a third-party, not Carnival.  This included trips to Pisa, Florence, the Vatican, Pompeii, the Colosseum, Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast, and Nora.  We also paid for local transportation, museum entry fees, alcohol, a few meals in-port, and a couple small gifts to bring back home.  Plus I gambled, too much on one day  in particular but in moderation the rest of the cruise.

I mistakenly called this a frugal cruise.  True, the price I paid for the cruise was quite cheap.  But the lesson I learned is that Europe is not a cheap place.  Was it worth it?  Absolutely.  One of the biggest surprises was the Value Added Tax (VAT) within the European Union.  It's like the sales tax we have in the U.S., except it's already included in the price of things.  The VAT was over 20% (as high as 26%) in each of the places we visited.  A small bottle of Coke, for example, cost as much as 3 Euros.

One of our favorite places was the island of Corfu, Greece.  For some reason, prices there were very reasonable.  We toured the island, visited some historical buildings, and shopped local markets.  I bought Olive Oil soap bars for 80 cents and a bottle of Kumquat liquor for 7 Euros.  We were also impressed with Dubrovnik, Croatia.  It, too, was reasonably priced.  I took an Uber there from the port to Old Town for the equivalent of $6.  It would have been double that in the U.S.

Our bodies are still adjusting to the 6 hour time difference.  It's a little after 2 AM and I am wide awake.  I went to bed around 7 PM though.

Tuesday, August 2

My Frugal Miser - July Expenses: $3,263

In July our expenses were a little high.  I completed several services on my car, including fluid exchanges, new air filters, and new headlight bulbs.  I did a lot of driving to generate income, so the depreciation expense ($1,001) is especially high.  I had to get a new dental crown ($473).  I ran the air conditioning every day (electric bill was $95).  The food bill was high, which surprises me because we didn't spend on anything extravagant.  The most expensive restaurant bill in July was just $13.

July Expenses:  $3,263

$1,508 Auto ($11 gas, $398 repairs/maintenance, $1,001 depreciation, $99 moped insurance)
$49 Bank Fees
$11 Clothing
$0 Computer
$38 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$408 Food
$22 Gifts Given
$118 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$52 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expense
$206 Interest Expense*
$473 Medical/Dental
$0 Miscellaneous
$13 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$83 Uber/Lyft Expenses (excluding fuel and depreciation)
$281 Utilities
$0 Vacation

*Interest expense includes student loans and the loan on my car.  As both rates are below 2%, I am completely comfortable paying the interest each month and investing the money that I would otherwise use to pay off these loans.  In July I paid $164 to E*Trade for "hard to borrow" interest on a short sale of Sears Holdings stock. 

Monday, August 1

My Frugal Miser - July Income: $35,506

July was perhaps my best income month ever.

Most of the income was from stock I sold.  Within the last year I purchased 8,000 shares of Vereit using the proceeds from the house I sold last year.  This REIT, a normally boring and conservative investment, increased by more than 40% in under a year.  There's no reason to be greedy:  I sold all my shares in my taxable brokerage account but still have a significant position in my retirement accounts.

Since conference work is nearly non-existent in the summer, I focused on mystery shopping, Amazon Flex and rideshare driving.  These "active" income sources brought in more than $4,000, but some of that was from jobs I completed in June but was paid for in July.

The vacant property I hold in my IRA was occupied at the end of July.  The townhouse is still empty.  Sometime this month I expect to have another vacancy in Birmingham.  Finally, I only received partial rent once again from one of my tenants.

July Income $35,506

$2,955 Mystery Shopping and Hospitality Jobs
$645 Uber
$663 Lyft
$306 Amazon Deliveries
$5,075 Rental Income
$1,237 Dividends and Interest (Investment Accounts)
$24,569 Realized Gains (Losses) on Investments
$56 Other Sources

  • I don't include transactions in my retirement accounts.  This includes rental income, dividends and capital gains and losses.
  • I include merchandising and hospitality work in the mystery shopping category since the companies that I shop for provide this extra side work. 

Wednesday, July 13

Save Big Money on Groceries: Wal-Mart's Yellow Labels

50% off Pecan Pie:  Why Not?
One of the ways I save a ton of money on groceries is by looking for reduced prices at Wal-Mart.  In the grocery department, these discounts are spotted easily by the large yellow stickers.

I can almost always find discounted items, but have had more luck visiting mid-day on weekdays.  First, the bread rack:  my local store hides this in the dairy aisle, far away from the rest of the bread.  Most items are marked down 50%.  This includes pies, rolls, loaves of specialty bread, and cookies.  For some reason, the Cuban bread is 70% off.  I get a long loaf for $.30.  Cream pies are also marked down 70%.  In the meat department, I can always find different types of meat that have been marked down.  Meat is only marked down 30%.  The advantage here is that I can freeze the items I won't be using right away.  Today I purchased ground turkey, sausages, and boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  There were several other deals I didn't take advantage of, including steaks, seasoned Angus patties and pork chops.  Finally, prepared items are marked down by half.  Going just after lunch is a good time to catch these items.  Cooked pizzas, rotisserie chickens, chicken wings, and deli sandwiches are regularly marked down 50% if they don't sell fast.

Wal-Mart is a great place to find discounted groceries.  Another place I go to is Aldi.  Aldi typically discounts special items that don't sell by the time the next circular comes out.  I've got my eyes on some LED lamps right now that I hope will get discounted.  They also discount their bread, refrigerated items like yogurt, and shelf-stable limited time goods, like cake mixes and special potato chips.  Occasionally I will find frozen merchandise like pizzas or ice cream at a discount.